EDMONTON — It was in the late stages of the Lightning’s big 8-2 win in Game 1 over the Islanders when Jon Cooper sent out Luke Schenn for an opportunity on the power play.
Up six goals, Cooper wasn’t looking for a goal from the rugged stay-at-home defenseman. It was likely a sign of Cooper “calling off the dogs,” so to speak, but it also could be viewed as a nice reward for the 12-year NHL veteran.
It’s been a rough ride for Schenn over the last several years. Bouncing back and forth between the NHL and the minors, he’s played on five different teams in the last four seasons.
But since being inserted in Tampa’s Bay’s lineup in place of injured Ryan McDonagh in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference semifinal against the Bruins, Schenn hasn’t come out of the lineup.
Not when McDonagh returned in Game 5 of that series, and in Friday night’s Game 3 loss when the Lightning were without the services of Alex Killorn (suspension) and Brayden Point (injured), Cooper still went with seven defensemen, keeping Schenn in the lineup.
He may not be logging a lot of minutes on the blueline as the seventh defenseman, but Cooper and the Lightning are leaning on his tenacity, toughness and experience.
“He makes us an inch taller on the bench. He’s big, he’s physical and he plays hard against teams that have a little bite like the Islanders do,” said Cooper.
“Schenner keeps them in check. You don’t see too many of their guys lined up to anywhere close to Schenner.”
When Schenn broke into the league with the Maple Leafs in 2008, much was expected of the former Kelowna Rockets star who went four picks after Lightning captain Steven Stamkos in the 2007 draft.
He spent four years with the Leafs before being dealt to the Flyers, and again expectations were high for Schenn in Philadelphia.
But as the years went on, Schenn’s role continued to decrease. He wasn’t a top pairing defenseman many thought he may be. He wasn’t a second-pairing defenseman either. After the Flyers traded him to the Kings as part of the Vinny Lecavalier deal in 2016, he had stops in Arizona, Anaheim and Vancouver before signing a one-year deal at the league-minimum $700,000 with the Lightning just a few weeks after he watched his brother Brayden lift the Stanley Cup with the Blues.
Schenn didn’t make the Lightning out of training camp and was back to riding buses in the AHL with Tampa’s farm team in Syracuse for a short stint. When he got his call back up he got into 25 games.
Now, he’s been given this opportunity to be a big part of the Lightning’s playoff run and he’s making the most of his chance.
“He brings that different element to our lineup. He’s physical, he’ll stand up for his teammates and he knows his role. He’s become a voice in our locker room,” said Lightning forward Pat Maroon.
“He’s getting better every game and he’s a guy we need in the lineup.”
Schenn’s game isn’t flashy by any means. A lot of what he does on the ice can go unnoticed, but it’s certainly not undervalued by his teammates and the Lightning coaching staff.
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While he’s hit some road bumps over his career, he’s now dishing out a lot of bumps and bruises for the Lightning.
He has no issue sacrificing his body to block a shot. He punishes guys in front of the net as they battle for space in front of his goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy.
In Game 2, he fought Matt Martin early in the second period after the Islanders agitator was trying to stir it up.
“He’s done an unbelievable job standing up for guys. Him fighting Martin was huge for us,” said Maroon.
“We love having him in the lineup.”
Playing the role of a depth defenceman likely wasn’t the role Schenn envisioned when he broke into the league as a 19-year-old, but it’s now become a role he’s thriving in as an experienced 30-year-old.
Schenn only had 12 games of NHL playoff experience before this deep run with the Lightning. Now, he’s trying to do whatever it takes to help bring Tampa a Stanley Cup.
“It’s great to have guys like him in our lineup,” said Cooper.
“He’s world-class in the locker room and as a human. You can’t have enough of those guys around.”